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Arms Control and Nonproliferation:Road from Prague to Today

Arms Control and Nonproliferation: The Road from Prague to Today

Ellen Tauscher
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
Remarks to the Commonwealth Club, Lafayette Library and Learning Center
Lafayette, CA
July 28, 2011

Good evening. Thanks for coming out tonight. I suppose you considered it safe because you knew I would not be asking for your vote.

I was fortunate to represent such great citizens as you for 13 years in Congress. You were so well informed on all the issues, in part because of the fantastic work of the Commonwealth Club and, of course, Dr. Duffy. All of us are safer today due to Gloria’s efforts while working at the Pentagon to secure and eliminate dangerous weapons throughout the former Soviet Union after the Cold War.

Despite Gloria’s great work and that of many others, we are still wrestling with dangerous legacies of the Cold War rivalry and adjusting our national security policies to reflect 21st century threats. That is what I am here to speak with you about.

The international security environment has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. The massive U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals inherited from decades of superpower confrontation are poorly suited to address the security challenges posed by suicidal terrorists and unfriendly regimes seeking nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Rejecting the notion that the world must glumly accept living with the fear of nuclear annihilation, President Obama two years ago in Prague declared the U.S. commitment “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Although his words were galvanizing to many, some have criticized the President as naïve, and the goal as impossible or undesirable.

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One of my predecessors likes to say that rather than a world without nuclear weapons, he would prefer a world where only one government has nuclear weapons. We tried that once and it did not last very long.

What is often overlooked about the President’s goal is that he emphasized the practical steps toward achieving the goal that would make us safer. He acknowledged that it would take patience and persistence to reach the final destination. He conceded it might not happen in his lifetime. Yet, not to try, he argued, was to surrender to fatalism and the inevitable spread and use of nuclear weapons.

Tonight, I am going to discuss how far we have come on those practical steps and where we are headed on efforts to reduce existing arsenals (disarmament) and halt the spread of nuclear weapons (nonproliferation).

Disarmament and nonproliferation are two sides of the same coin. Countries with nuclear weapons will be reluctant to disarm so long as they face the prospect that other states may acquire such weapons. Similarly, countries might pursue nuclear weapons because their neighbors or others possess them. You cannot succeed on nonproliferation without continued progress on disarmament.

And the reverse is true as well: this Administration’s success in concluding the New START Treaty has helped to strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

Disarmament and arms control efforts enhance international security and promote international unity on preventing new nuclear states and nuclear terrorism.

Nonproliferation helps create the security conditions needed to make further progress on reducing the roles and numbers of nuclear weapons.

Since the President’s Prague speech, we have made significant progress on both reducing nuclear forces and strengthening the nonproliferation regime.

A core principle of the President’s approach is accountability. States do not exist in a vacuum and their actions affect and influence the decision making and strategic calculus of other states.

As the President said in Prague, “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”

We have followed through. When North Korea announced a nuclear test, this Administration led the UN Security Council to pass Resolution 1874, imposing the toughest international sanctions to date against North Korea.

This Administration also has united the international community to pressure Iran to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions and its international obligations not to develop nuclear weapons. For instance, Russia passed up substantial profits to deny an Iranian request for an advanced air defense system.

Syria also is being held accountable. The International Atomic Energy Agency in June ratcheted up scrutiny of Syria’s nuclear activities by reporting them to the UN Security Council.

But accountability applies beyond just a few states. All countries in the world that possess nuclear technologies, material, and expertise must be responsible for ensuring that those items are safe and secure from theft or misuse. In addition, states that serve as commerce or transportation hubs must be mindful of not facilitating illicit transfers.

Indeed, vigilance is the responsibility of all countries because the consequences of a single nuclear weapon detonating anywhere in the world would have global consequences.

Seeking to cultivate a culture of greater accountability, President Obama hosted 46 countries at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April 2010. The Summit highlighted the need to work together to secure nuclear material and prevent illicit nuclear trafficking and terrorism. Participants agreed to secure all vulnerable nuclear material within four years. To measure our progress, South Korea will host another summit next March.

In international relations, cause and effect can be hard to determine. But there is no question that our efforts to strengthen nuclear security and unify the international community on North Korea, Iran, and Syria have been aided by the Administration’s efforts to live up to its own treaty commitments and lead by actions, not just words.

One year after the President’s Prague speech, the United States issued its Nuclear Posture Review, which aims to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in our overall defense posture. That review declares that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attacks against the United States and our allies and partners. The longer term goal is to create the conditions to safely make that the sole purpose of our nuclear forces.

To reinforce the security benefits to be gained by states forgoing nuclear arms, the Nuclear Posture Review declared that we will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations. In other words, a state that abides by its commitments to forswear nuclear weapons does not need to fear the use of such weapons against it.

Another act of leadership by this Administration was negotiation and ratification of the New START Treaty with Russia. The Treaty entered into force in February following the Senate’s approval last December. When it is fully implemented, the New START Treaty will result in the lowest number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and Russia since the 1950s.

Earlier this month, Secretary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov brought an agreement into force committing each country to dispose of no less than 34 metric tons of excess weapon-grade plutonium, which represents enough total material for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons.

In short, the two years since the President’s Prague speech have been exceedingly productive. Nevertheless, we will not rest on our laurels. I can tell you with certainty that President Obama and Secretary Clinton will not let us do so. Despite the many pressing global challenges, the President has directed us to keep up the momentum and lay the ground work for additional progress.

With this in mind, I want to share our current and future plans to advance both nuclear weapons reductions and nonproliferation. Again, you cannot really do one without the other.

Signing and ratifying treaties generally get all the hype, but the real benefits come from implementation. This is true for the New START Treaty.

The Senate debate on the Treaty last December received significant media attention, but there has been barely a blip of coverage since, so let me update you on implementation.

The United States and Russia have exchanged data, held exhibitions, and notified each other on the status of our strategic forces. In fact, we have exchanged more than 1,000 notifications since February. We also have begun conducting on-site inspections. To date, we have conducted seven inspections inside Russia, while it has done five here.

The access and information derived from this Treaty provide important predictability and stability in the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship. Without that access and information, the risks of miscalculations, misunderstandings, and mistrust would be greater.

As we implement New START, we are preparing for further nuclear reduction negotiations with Russia. Under the President’s direction, the U.S. Government is reviewing our nuclear requirements. The Department of Defense and other agencies will consider what forces the United States needs to maintain strategic stability and deterrence and consider factors such as potential changes in targeting requirements and alert postures.

As we consider further reductions, we are making the investments to ensure the United States will retain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal so long as nuclear weapons exist. Our intention over the next 10 years is to invest $85 billion in the nation’s nuclear infrastructure, including both Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories.

It may seem counterintuitive, but these investments will allow greater reductions because the same infrastructure is used to eliminate warheads, and with greater confidence and capability in our infrastructure and people we will not have to keep so many spare weapons.

In addition to our internal review, our approach to the next nuclear reductions agreement will be informed by the ongoing NATO Deterrence and Defense Posture Review. The primary task of the NATO posture review is ensuring that NATO has the “appropriate mix” of conventional, nuclear, and missile defense capabilities necessary to respond to 21st century threats. From our perspective, we want to ensure that NATO’s posture and policies are not inconsistent with the positions laid out in the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review.

We have made clear that NATO reductions should occur in the context of Russia taking reciprocal measures to adjust its nuclear posture, including reductions in its non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Our overall objective with Russia is to seek future reductions in all categories of nuclear weapons: strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads, including non-deployed weapons.

No previous arms control agreement has included provisions to limit and monitor non-deployed warheads or non-strategic warheads. To do so will require more demanding approaches to verification that will require extensive consultations between us and Russia.

As we work to reduce the excessive leftover weapons from our Cold War confrontation with Moscow, we also must counter the threats of today.

One of the serious challenges that we face is from ballistic missiles, which can be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction.

This Administration is dedicated to developing and deploying effective missile defenses. The Phased Adaptive Approach approved by President Obama in 2009 provides a more effective and a more timely response to the most likely missile threats that we will face in the foreseeable future.

But you do not need to ask this Administration to toot its own horn, ask our NATO allies. For the first time last year, NATO fully embraced our proposed missile defense approach of protecting all European members’ territories and populations. That was a very significant milestone given the past contentiousness of this issue.

While getting our NATO Allies to support this effort was a significant challenge, we have now embarked on an even tougher task: convincing Russia to join us in cooperation on missile defense. We believe that such cooperation can provide Russia confidence that our missile defenses will strengthen strategic stability and enhance both nations’ capabilities to defend against emerging missile threats.

At the same time, the President has made clear that cooperation with Russia will not in any way limit U.S. or NATO missile defense capabilities and that the NATO alliance alone bears responsibility for defending NATO’s members.

With both Russia and China, we want to transcend traditional thinking on strategic stability, often associated with Mutually Assured Destruction, and instead build toward a new concept of Mutually Assured Stability.

This would be a new approach to achieving stability. It would create incentives for achieving cooperation and avoiding conflict. Mutually Assured Stability would be based on mutual interest, respect, and peaceful cooperation. While differences would remain, states would share an overriding interest in peace and stability that is underpinned by arms limitations, nuclear and conventional, and other confidence-building measures.

That is why this Administration is dedicated to ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty—CTBT—and negotiation and ratification of the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty—FMCT. Both agreements can help limit the modernization and expansion of arsenals among other countries with nuclear weapons, as well as the acquisition of nuclear weapons by those countries that do not have them.

Let me first address the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. We are committed to working with members of both parties in the Senate to ratify the CTBT, just as we did for New START. We have no illusions that this will be easy. But we intend to stress three essential points as we make our case to the Senate and the American people.

First, CTBT ratification serves America’s national security interests because it will help lead other states to ratify the treaty and thus strengthen the legal and political barriers to a resumption of nuclear testing, which would fuel the nuclear build up in Asia. It will help prevent the further advancement of nuclear capabilities in unstable regions, strengthen our leverage with the international community to pressure defiant regimes that engage in illicit nuclear activities, and lend the United States greater credibility when encouraging other states to exercise restraint or hold others accountable.

Second, we are in a stronger position today than ever before to effectively verify the Treaty through the International Monitoring System set up under the Treaty and our own strengthened national capabilities. The International Monitoring System demonstrated in 2006 and again in 2009 its ability to detect underground nuclear explosions – despite being incomplete.

Third, our nuclear stockpile has been kept safe, secure, and effective for almost two decades without nuclear testing. As I mentioned earlier, President Obama is committed to increase funding for the U.S. nuclear laboratories and the full nuclear complex to ensure that we can continue to have confidence in our stockpile without testing. Indeed, our nuclear experts say they know more about how our nuclear weapons work than we did when we explosively tested them.

In essence, we have been abiding for 20 years by the CTBT’s main obligation—not testing—without the benefit of locking other states into that same commitment.

I should note that Glenn Seaborg, whose name adorns this wonderful learning center, was a champion of a test ban. In a book published 30 years ago—16 years before the CTBT was completed—he argued that such a ban would help increase stability, impede arms races, and lend greater credibility to U.S. efforts to stop the spread of the bomb. His reasoning was right then and it is right now.

Prohibiting tests is in our national interest and so is ending the worldwide production of fissile material for weapons purposes. That is the objective of an FMCT. We do not need more fissile material that could be used to make more bombs, especially when we know terrorist groups are seeking to get their hands on such material anyway that they can.

Our preference is to negotiate an FMCT within the Conference on Disarmament, but that body has been deadlocked by Pakistan. Thus, the United States is joining with other key countries to start preparations for a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) elsewhere until the Conference can get down to work.

Although that is a pretty full agenda, we also have our eyes squarely on Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and the dangers posed by further proliferation.

After two decades of clandestine nuclear activities, Iran continues to refuse to comply with its international obligations. Iran is moving in the opposite direction of addressing international concerns by declaring its intention to triple its capacity to enrich uranium to nearly twenty percent. Iran also continues to move forward with its enrichment and heavy-water related activities, all in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

As we have repeatedly said, we do not dispute Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program. But, with rights come responsibilities. Iran has a responsibility to restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear activities.

We are going to maintain pressure on Iran unless and until it engages in a constructive way and complies with its international obligations.

The same goes for Syria. It must uphold its international obligations, including providing access to any site or information deemed essential by the International Atomic Energy Agency to complete its investigation into Syria’s clandestine nuclear activities.

Our policy on North Korea remains the same: we do not accept North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state. We remain committed to the 2005 Joint Statement and its core goal of the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.

We urge all countries to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 fully and transparently. And we are encouraging all states to take all measures necessary to impede North Korea’s efforts to develop its nuclear and missile programs and engage in proliferation activities.

The United States continues to consult closely with partners in the Six-Party process. We were pleased last week when the North and South Korean negotiators met with each other on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.

To determine whether North Korea is serious, Secretary Clinton announced that the United States has invited a senior North Korean official to New York for talks this week.

Nevertheless, we have made it consistently clear that before any resumption of Six-Party Talks, North Korea must improve relations with South Korea and demonstrate a change in behavior, including taking irreversible steps to denuclearize, complying with international law, and ceasing provocative behavior.

As the President said, the United States will lead efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, but we cannot do it alone. We require the contributions of all, and we need to make use of all the resources and tools available.

One of the most important tools is the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, whose mission is to help countries maintain appropriate nuclear safeguards, safety, and security, while also verifying that civilian nuclear programs are not being used covertly for weapons.

We are seeking to improve the IAEA’s abilities to investigate potential and actual undeclared nuclear activities and to apply effective and efficient safeguards at declared nuclear facilities to ensure they are not abused or misused.

A key initiative is getting all countries to adopt what is called an Additional Protocol to give the IAEA additional authorities to do its job. All told, nearly 140 states, including the United States, have either signed or concluded Additional Protocols since 1997. We are engaging with those states who have not yet signed an Additional Protocol to do so.

As more countries potentially turn to nuclear power, the IAEA will be vital to providing confidence that the threat of nuclear proliferation does not grow with the demand for nuclear energy.

Underscoring our efforts to support peaceful uses of nuclear energy, this Administration has pledged $50 million in new funding for IAEA activities toward that end and we are encouraging other countries to raise another $50 million.

Describing the Cold War era, President Obama said generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a flash of light. Our purpose is to help create a world where future generations can harness the benefits of the atom, while not having that same fearful knowledge.

For our part, the United States declared in the Nuclear Posture Review that we would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or our Allies and partners. This should come as no surprise given our military’s ever increasing emphasis on precision and the avoidance of non-combatant casualties and collateral damage. Attributes not associated with nuclear weapons. The NPR states that it is in the U.S. interest and that of all other states that the 65-year record of non-use be extended forever.

The only guaranteed way to realize that goal is to eliminate nuclear weapons, which, as I have described, will be a gradual process. But we cannot proceed at a glacial pace. Delay or inaction on either disarmament or nonproliferation will erode momentum until both grind to a halt.

Let me conclude by returning to an observation by Glenn Seaborg in his book of 30 years ago. While hopeful that the political will was emerging for a test ban, he lamented that Washington and Moscow had settled for driving testing underground in the early 1960s than going for a complete ban. As a result, he judged that the value of a test ban had diminished over time because the United States and Soviet Union were negotiating at a higher and more dangerous level.

Yet, he warned, “If we allow the present opportunity to slip away, however, the next one, if there is a next one, will be at a level still higher and still more dangerous.” The Obama Administration is determined not to let our opportunities slip away. We are focusing carefully on each practical step to ensure our footing on steady ground as we follow the President’s path to a more peaceful world without nuclear weapons.

Thank you. I welcome any questions that you have.


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